UK will continue to face a united EU27 in talks
In the months after the referendum, there were constant stories in the British media about the EU falling apart as member countries took opposing sides on various aspects of Brexit. Even now, the Daily Express runs at least one headline a week screaming that German car manufacturers are panicking about the loss of the UK market and putting pressure on Angela Merkel to order Michel Barnier to go easy on David Davis and Theresa May.
There was a more general view that the interests of the EU27 were in line while they were trying to get Britain to pay the divorce bill, but would quickly diverge when it came to trade talks and some countries, not least Ireland, might insist on their own bilateral trade negotiations.
A report issued today by the Centre for European Reform argues that the EU will continue to stick together. “The UK will not be offered a‘sweetheart deal’. The only way for Britain to maintain a comparable level of single market access to that which it enjoys today would be for Theresa May to soften her red lines and accept the accompanying overarching obligations.”
The UK may have relied too much on the Brexit exposure of the German economy: “Germanys economy is the most exposed, after Ireland, but it has proved oneof the toughest countries in the negotiations. Apart from Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and tiny Malta, 2 per cent, or less, of the member-states’ GDPs are embedded in trade with the UK.”
Germany will not be picked off by worries about car exports: “Although German industry stands to lose from a hard Brexit, Germany sees the integrity of the European Union as a core national interest, embedded in Article 23 of the German constitution.”
In fact, conclude the authors, the talks process to date has actually enhanced solidarity: “A stance of complete unity worked in phase one of the talks. The 27 got what they wanted on the sequencing and the withdrawal agreement by acting together. The Commission, Germany and France are in a strong position to persuade the others that continued unity will help them to pursue their interests. And the overwhelming interest among the 27 will remain ensuring the integrity of the single market and the longevity of the European project. And this doesn’t look set to change any time soon, despite Brexit.”